Note: This is the extended version of my story in Saturday's Buffalo News.
Can it really be 10 years of doing our annual wrap-up of the highlights of high school boys basketball's Championship Week? Time sure fast-breaks when you're having fun.
I saw 34 playoff games in 15 days, and here's the best from the big games at Buffalo State, Canisius College and Jamestown Community College.
Best dunk: In a year in which there were at least as many missed dunks as made ones, there were some solid candidates with International Prep at Grover Cleveland's Kadeem Hillman setting a tone with a two-handed monster early in the C final, Jamestown's Darin Butts gliding to a making-it-look-easy, one-hand finish against Lancaster in the AA semifinals, and McKinley's Antonio Avery's one-hander after cocking his arm back against Niagara Falls in the other semifinal. But the winner is from out of town: 6-foot-5 senior Chavaughn Lewis of Long Island power St. Mary's soared after a long takeoff for a big one in the Catholic state semifinal win over Canisius.
Best block: After a Canisius turnover, it looked like St. Joe's Steven Moser had empty court in front of him for what would have been a go-ahead layup in the final minutes of the Manhattan Cup final. But Aaron Nevins not only raced back, he went airborne for a huge highlight block that kept the momentum for Canisius (watch it on PrepTalkTV online).
Best pass: Aaron White's pick-and-roll bounce pass to Gordon Lyons led him right to the hoop for a basket that not only gave Canisius its first lead with about 2:20 left in the Manhattan Cup final, but put the Crusaders up for good in their come-from-behind victory over St. Joe's.
Best pass from the floor: Nevins, after a scramble, was flat on his back as he passed to Richard Walsh for a three-pointer to beat the shot clock buzzer and bring Canisius within two in the first minute of the fourth quarter in the Manhattan Cup final.
Best pass while falling to floor: Olean's Nick Schmidt rebounded his own miss, and while falling to the court, delivered a behind-the-back pass to Sam Eckstrom for what would be a three-point play against East in the A-2 semifinal.
Best fast-break pass: Butts' behind-the-back bounce pass to send Tommy Campion in for a layup early against Lancaster in the AA semifinal.
Best full-court pass: Clymer senior Cliff Bailey made a steal and then found junior Adam Walker beautifully in the D final.
Best save: Jake Spitler grabbed a ball and blindly whipped it behind him to St. Joe's teammate Chad Kelly for a layup in a big play in the fourth quarter of the Marauders' semifinal win over Timon.
Best crossover: Riverside's Justice Feggans made one defender wobbly to draw another one to him, enabling him to fire a pass to Mike Leonard for a basket in the A-2 semifinal.
Best game: The rivalry, the crowd and the comeback give the Manhattan Cup final a buzzer-beater of an edge over the double-overtime instant classic between East and Will South in the A final and Jamestown's fantastic finishing off of Falls in the AA final.
Best individual game: Jamestown junior Jaysean Paige's semifinal against Lancaster was so consistent, seemingly effortless and multi-dimensional that even his own coach was surprised at the point total when it was over. Paige's 42 gave him the first 40-plus game at Buffalo State since 2009 when Mansa Habeeb went for 40 in McKinley's double overtime win over Williamsville South in the A-1 final.
Best shot: Tremmell Fisher's fadeaway bank-shot three to help East force overtime against South.
Best shot (non-bank shot division): Tyler Martin's go-ahead three for Wilson against Cleveland Hill in the final minute of the B-2 semi.
Best drive: Phil Stasiak's three-point play in the final seconds of the A-1 semifinal to push Williamsville South's one-point lead to four over Hutch-Tech.
Best three-pointer: In a week full of big threes, it is the second of Paige's back-to-back triples in the final minutes against Falls, a step-back shot from the right corner with a hand in his face to bring Jamestown to within one.
Best second half: Canisius righting itself in the Manhattan Cup.
Best fourth quarter: Jamestown coming back to beat Falls in the AA final.
Best coaching: Olean's Jeff Anastasia makes the list every year for a reason. This year his starting lineup, which included three freshman and a sophomore, played about as disciplined and smart as any team all week.
Canisius coach Kyle Husband won his second Manhattan Cup in three years.
Jamestown's Ben Drake won his second straight AA title.
Rich Clifford's Cassadaga Valley team plays super-smart, inspired basketball, he calls excellent timeouts and is a great presence on the sideline for his team.
He's got some warriors, but Williamsville South's Al Monaco designs a winning plan for the Billies to carry out.
Tim Foley took a Lackawanna team that had a scatterbrained regular season and got the Steelers to deliver two outstanding performances to eliminate Dunkirk and Newfane and win the school's 15th sectional title.
Starling Bryant continues to show up at Buffalo State, not to mention the regionals.
Not a bad rookie season for I-Prep's Shaun Ryan or Falls' Sal Constantino.
Neighbors Jason Przybysz (Cleveland Hill) and Pat Cullinan (Cheektowaga) continue to build up their programs with their second straight trip to Buffalo State.
Best league: The Yale Cup has two teams in today's regionals and had seven reach the sectional semifinals.
Carlos Rivera MVP Award (named for last year's winner from Jamestown): Paige.
All-Championship Week team: Canisius seniors Aaron Nevins and Gordon Lyons, East senior Tremmell Fisher, Jamestown senior Darin Butts, I-Prep/Grover senior Chris Holland, Williamsville South senior Phil Stasiak.
Second team: Lackawanna seniors Christian Cheatom and Dondre Alexander, Newfane senior Rohn Pierce, Pine Valley senior Jason Howard, Tapestry Charter senior Dazmon Knight, Williamsville South seniors Joe Licata and Kevin O'Connell.
A'aron Mungro Hustle Team (named for the 2003 City Honors state champion who packed 7 feet of heart into his 5-10 frame): Archbishop Walsh junior Marcus Clarke, Cassadaga Valley senior Robert Glover, Cleveland Hill junior Daryl Spencer, Lackawanna senior Shayne Daley, McKinley senior Dujuan Rutledge.
Can't-wait-til-next-year team: MVP Matt Hart (Canisius) and fellow juniors Ryan Whelpley (Archbishop Walsh), Kyle Kobis (Bishop Timon-St. Jude), Jordan Williams (Timon), Dustin Schauman (Cassadaga Valley), Jeru Molson (Cleveland Hill), Adam Walker (Clymer), Arzell Kaigler (CSAT), Kevin Holmes (Dunkirk), Taijay Williams (Niagara Falls), Nathan Meyers (St. Mary's), Tyler Martin (Wilson).
Can't-wait-til-next-two-years team: co-MVPs Aaron White (Canisius) and Justice Feggans (Riverside) and fellow sophomores Bryant Fulton (Bishop Timon-St. Jude), Adam Weir (Canisius), Ahmad Abdo (Lackawanna), Jermaine Crumpton (Niagara Falls), Jaleo Wilkins (Niagara Falls), Clayton Hess (Tonawanda).
Special team award in the can't-wait-til-the-next-two-and-three-years division: Olean. The Huskies' starting lineup consisted of freshmen Luke Hennessy, Nick Schmidt and Sam Eckstrom (6-6) along with sophomore Patrick Scholla, while sophomore Max Portlow made great plays off the bench. Only two seniors on this year's roster.
Big little men: Canisius 5-8 sophomore Aaron White (huge second half in Manhattan Cup final), Lackawanna 5-foot-5 senior Dondre Alexander (11 of 12 from the line against Newfane), Lancaster 5-7 senior Jake Kroll (tough baskets against Jamestown), McKinley 5-6 junior Michael Davis 5-6 (big minutes off the bench against Falls), Pine Valley 5-7 senior Marcus Astry (5 of 6 at line in final minutes of D final).
Glue guys: Canisius seniors Richard Walsh and Ring Henry, East seniors Dominique House and Jason McDaniel, I-Prep senior Kenny Pringle, Jamestown senior Joey Campion and junior Adam Cecchini.
All-defensive team: CSAT junior Arzell Kaigler, Jamestown senior Chris Carlson, Lackawanna junior Raytrel Finley, I-Prep/Grover senior Chris Holland, Niagara Falls senior Marcus Feagin, Riverside senior Gilbert Herrera.
Best hair: The mohawk of Dunkirk senior Brendan Gibbons.
Worst luck: St. Joe's junior Reggie Agbeko landed awkwardly on the tip of the Manhattan Cup semifinal and went down in a heap with an ankle injury that limited his playing time in the final.
Best sign: With Cassadaga Valley playing the Lakemen of Wilson, the winner is: "Swim for your life; the Cougars are coming," accompanied by a picture of a bunch of Cougars riding a wave.
Best fans: Newfane's Blue Zone lived up to their reputation as one of Western New York's best student sections with great numbers and great schtick. They brought along super-jumbo-sized cardboard cutouts of the faces of their Panthers, and they provided perhaps the most unique free-throw distraction technique I've ever seen -- several students held another up by his arms and legs, swinging him backward and forward to go along with the throng's rhythmic chanting.
Runners-up: Tonawanda's Tribe, which including a kid dressed up as a penguin and a life-sized cardboard cutout of coach Hank Hughes.
Clymer's beaded and long-socked supporters.
Best fan faceoff: When the teams met in the B-1 semis, Newfane's Blue Zone read newspapers while Tonawanda was introduced, the Tribe did an about-face when Newfane was being introduced.
Best (but some not the best) fans: Tapestry Charter had a loud, boisterous group make the trip down to Jamestown for the C final and they were a force as they "Tap-Tap-Tap-Tap-Tap Highhhhh"-ed their way through the contest. But a few select adult fans dragged their grade way down for classlessly heckling an I-Prep player.
Best mascots: Cassadaga Valley's duo. Not one Cougar, but two. Must have gotten the costumes at a two-for-one sale.
Best-dressed coach: Newfane's Eric Klummp turned heads with a shiny vest (no jacket, thank you very much) to join perennial award-winners Ben Drake of Jamestown and Starling Bryant of East, thanks to his blazer with the school logo.
Best band: It was great to have Niagara Falls' excellent pep band back at Buffalo State, as it provides another dimension to the playoff atmosphere. But the award goes to Clymer's student ensemble, which included a drum set just off the court and clarinet players in the second row of the bleachers. The group had elementary school-aged members, including a quartet which performed the National Anthem.
Best quote: "It would take a wooden stake in the heart to kill these guys -- either that or a banked-in three." -- Will South coach Al Monaco after the A final.
Overheard: In the A-2 final, East coach Starling Bryant called for a timeout, then he heard Riverside coach Ron Killinger call for one. As Bryant was awarded his timeout, he tries to convince the officials that Killinger called it. "He called timeout! He called timeout!" he yelled, pointing at Killinger, before softening up with a smile.
A Lackawanna player to another in the closing seconds of the Steelers' win over previously unbeaten Dunkirk. "Undefeated? Garbage schedule." Harsh, but true.
"I believe that we have won!" being co-opted by a roaring Blue Crew section in the final seconds of Canisius' win over rival St. Joe's, who should have to be paid rights fees when anyone else does that chant.
Earl Schunk, coaching Tapestry against his former team, I-Prep at Grover, lobbied for a travel against Chris Holland. "When I coached him, that was a travel -- so I'm beginning to think it's me."
The repeated holler from the crowd from the father of Niagara Falls big man Jordan Street, urging the Wolverines to get the ball down low: "POST cereal! POST cereal!"
Weird bounces: In a Monsignor Martin quarterfinal, a blocked shot by St. Mary's left the ball wedged in between the rim and the backboard.
At the halftime shootaround of the D final, a basketball became lodged above Pine Valley's backboard.
In the A-2 semifinals, a Cheektowaga player mistakenly scored into his own basket.
In the AA final, Jamestown's Butts threw an inbounds lob pass from near midcourt -- and it banked into the hoop.
Highlights: Wilson junior guard Tyler Martin wore No.‚30 in honor of senior leader Tyler Truesdell, who suffered a knee injury at a late-season practice and missed the playoffs.
The mothers of good friends Connor Rehbaum and Aaron Nevins both wore the same T-shirt to the Manhattan Cup final between St. Joe's and Canisius -- the shirts were adorned with a picture of the duo taken in grade school.
Lackawanna's Cheatom jumping into the crowd twice in the final minutes of their win over Dunkirk.
Riverside channeled LeBron's Cavaliers with a fun pregame intro for the A-2 semifinal, playfully posing for an imaginary photo with one player acting like he was taking the picture.
Cheerleaders joining the handshake line between McKinley and Niagara Falls.
After a collision between an East player and a Riverside player in the A-2 final, East's Fisher helped both players up.
There's nothing like the buzz in the Buffalo State Sports Arena right before the tip of a game like Falls-Jamestown -- well, except the buzz that happens when a game goes to OT (and then to a second OT).
Lowlights: A losing coach in the Class C semifinals used profanity as he yelled at the winning coach after the game, complaining about the winning coach's fans. Unacceptable.
Section VI, we know you want to keep things on schedule, but if you are going to start games that are scheduled for 5:30 p.m. at 5:25, let us know and we'll put that time in the newspaper (and online). It's not fair to fans who show up to a game on time to have missed any action at all.
The aforementioned outstanding Niagara Falls pep band, one of the best features of Championship Week and a great enhancement to the fan experience at Buffalo State, is forced to pay admission by Section VI.
For the umpteenth straight year, Section VI programs were not available for the entire week at Buffalo State. They arrived on Tuesday for the second straight year -- tough luck for fans and teams playing Monday.
The cover of the program features a photo of a Lockport-Grand Island game. No offense to either, but those aren't exactly two schools which make regular visits to Buffalo State.
During the third game of Tuesday's tripleheader, fans were told they couldn't buy programs because they had run out.
A leak in the Buffalo State roof dropped water on the court during Saturday's finals, but to the arena's credit, a staff worker was stationed at midcourt during Saturday's games and all action went on without any problems.
At the end of Cassadaga Valley's Class B win over Lackawanna, a small group of about 15 or 20 CV fans -- despite announcements that fans were prohibited from coming on the court after the game -- ran out to celebrate with their team. Several uniformed campus police officers were soon shooing them off, with one officer shouting like he was breaking up a bar fight down the street on Elmwood Ave. A little perspective would be appropriate. Parents and students get excited, they jump around with the team, then they leave. An intimidating police presence is not necessary.
At one game, you could hear how obnoxious fans are created: An adult male continually rode the officials, with an adult female regularly chiming in with her own heckling. Then you heard a youngster's voice saying the same things -- just following the fine example set by his parents.
Why we mention awful fan behavior: At one game, I blogged about an adult fan classlessly yelling at a player and riding a referee to the extreme. Later, I learned the fan -- having been alerted to the blog -- had e-mailed coaches, parents and players of his program to apologize for his behavior. A few games later he introduced himself to me and apologized as well. If we can help just one fan
Airball by the Buffalo Public Schools: On Championship Saturday at Buffalo State, I heard from several different people that there was a rumor going around about a team that had beaten a Yale Cup team in the playoffs having used an ineligible player. Separate of that, Buffalo Public Schools officials called me and emailed me with the exact same claim.
If you are going to make the decision to file a protest about that sort of thing (even the player in question has played all season and apparently no teams in his league thought anything was out of line) carry it out the right way: Do it at the highest levels, through the proper channels, at the appropriate time, and keep a lid on it.
If there is any rules violation, a sectional investigation would ultimately bear that out. But if there isn't? It's a sour grapes move that does nothing but cast a high school player (and his school) in an unfavorable light as his name is fed to the rumor mill on the biggest day of the high school basketball season.
Please, no more Big Wednesdays: This year's was eventful, but we wish it weren't so big. Scheduling constraints regarding Canisius College led to the Manhattan Cup being played during Buffalo State week for the first time in a decade. With the Class C semifinals in Jamestown and the A-1 semifinals at Buffalo State on that same Wednesday, there was too many good games going on at the same times. Hopefully, scheduling like that can be avoided in the future.
Site foresight: Section VI's decision to hold the Class C and D championship games at Jamestown Community College since 2006 has been a great one, as the venue was logistically and geographically more appropriate for those games. But it could be time to take another look. This year, as many expected from the first month of the season, three of the Class C final four teams hailed from Buffalo. For the championship game, fans of I-Prep and Tapestry had to drive 75 miles to watch their teams. Not good.
Pizzagate: When Buffalo State's pizza oven broke down on Tuesday, three enterprising -- and hungry -- fans sitting at center court looked across at the signs below the scorer's table, saw a pizzeria advertisement, made a phone call and had a pie delivered to the side door of the arena.
Full disclosure: I was one of those fans.
In the bonus: This is the expanded version of the awards that appeared in the paper -- almost twice as much content.
Your call: Have your own winners and losers? Call your own plays in the comments section on this post.
Best place to read this: At today's regionals at Rochester's Blue Cross Arena.
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